The impact of COVID-19 is going to be felt for a while across a variety of agencies and departments of local and state government in the months ahead as sudden shutdowns roll over to slow reopenings.
Pandemic shutdowns haven’t stopped the inner workings of some portions of government from functioning, and for the Tallapoosa Circuit District Attorney’s office, it is a good time to get caught up on a backlog of case files.
“Instead of staying afloat, we’ve been able to do a little bit of swimming,” Browning said.
Though Browning said that his office is constantly dealing with a pair of cases being pushed back from years past still being caught up fully to the current delays and upcoming arrests, it is two simultaneous piles of paperwork he and his office are working on even as the court is shutdown.
He said that at least one of the backlogs that had been in place in past administrations of the District Attorney’s office is now caught up, and arrests that have occurred since the beginning of the COVID-19 shutdowns for courts are getting ready to process when the judicial system can open back up.
“We are taking the opportunity to get a lot of work done at this time,” Browning said.
Even with the shutdown, Browning is still having to split his time between two counties in the judicial circuit.
Locally, that means that when court can return back to regular business and the work of the Grand Jury and jury trials in general can return, there will be a lot of cases waiting for the court to hear.
He said that number is more than 300 cases and growing that are waiting on arraignments to be heard alone.
“That doesn’t account for the Grand Jury cases that were already on the docket,” Browning said.
Even despite the shutdown, Browning said it was good that his office has had the time without courtroom time to get everything caught up as much as possible. His goal is that when court is allowed to return, the backlog will be manageable and hopefully won’t take up too much time.
That will all be determined by when the Tallapoosa Circuit Superior Court Chief Judge Meng Lim and Judge Mark Murphy can go back to hearing cases. Orders from the Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court have kept the benches empty since the COVID-19 pandemic required shutdowns in mid-March, and extended orders in April and May to continue until June 12.
If the order is allowed to expire, Browning may have an opportunity to impanel a Grand Jury to sit before the end of June. If the order is extended, he said he was unsure of what the timeline might look like further into the summer.
Safety concerns over large gatherings in the confined space of the courthouse are the main reason why the courts have been closed, since people are compelled to attend rather than on their own voluntary efforts.